Review of Unraveller

Unraveller Unraveller
by Frances Hardinge
Middle School, High School    Amulet/Abrams    432 pp.
1/23    9781509836970    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781647005627    $15.54

In a magical land where anger grows like an egg inside certain people until it bursts into a destructive curse, quick-tempered Kellen has a special talent: through persistent sleuthing and his own lively intuition, he can “unravel” the anger and undo the curse. Nettle, who was a heron before Kellen unraveled her stepmother’s curse and restored her humanity, is Kellen’s opposite, reserved to a fault and inclined to think twice before acting. The teens are bailed out of jail by dangerous-seeming marsh horseman Gall, which sets off a cascade of adventures. Gall’s employer wants them to investigate the Red Hospital where cursers are held captive; when they find that one of the cursers has been replaced by an innocent person, it’s off to the spirit-infested Wilds to follow one clue after another. As revelation builds upon revelation, Kellen and Nettle are drawn in both by their own curiosity and by what appears to be a conspiracy: someone is gathering cursers and turning their spite against political targets, and Gall’s shadowy employer seems to be in their crosshairs. Hardinge (A Skinful of Shadows, rev. 1/18; Deeplight, rev. 3/20) creates a top-notch fantasy with a fresh setting populated by original monsters (Bookbearers, Gladelords, Dancing Stars) and the feel of old folktales. But it’s Kellen’s wild charisma and Nettle’s extreme interiority that will beguile readers, even as the tale’s air of mystery continuously deepens.

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Anita L. Burkam

Anita L. Burkam
Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam is former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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